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Student Blog: The Whole Truth

Research and be passionate.

What does it mean for a person to be recognized as authentic? Perhaps being authentic means being brutally honest and exposed, or maybe it is the decision to behave in the same manner no matter the audience or situation. I believe authenticity is a favorable quality often associated with amicable individuals. The decision to align your behaviors with your beliefs and morals shows reliability and makes it easier for others to relate to you. Someone who is authentically themselves can then be appreciated for all their facets, because there is no question about what is true. I also believe this response to authenticity can be directly applied to acting. An actor who is entirely genuine is so much more captivating than one who doesn't step in fully.

While I believe it is largely important, I will not say that portraying a character with complete authenticity is easy, or simple. I've had my own share of trying to discover authenticity as a character, and with that has been successes and failures to grow from. I have witnessed performers neglect to prioritize realism and just fall into the logistics of acting. I have also seen actors transform and suck the air out of the room. The intrigue that authenticity alone brings to a performance is enough to make any actor stop and study it like their life depends on it.

Authenticity can be defined as a presence or existence that is genuine, which should be a goal while developing a character. Though, there is a difference between regurgitating what our professors tell us about living in the life of the character, acting with total honesty, or making choices within the realm of the circumstance, and actually doing it. An actor who says they feel they are fully engaged but does not understand the meaning of their text has missed the mark. There is a required passion to begin to live with honesty, and without that personal desire, authenticity will be fabricated.

Student Blog: The Whole Truth
The relationship between Buddy Layman
(Jacob Little) and Jennie Mae Layman (Sarah
Conte) dictates the interactions in this scene.
(PC: Lyndsey Ruiz)

So, how does an actor start acting honestly? Frankly, my knowledge is limited because I am still learning and will be learning my entire life. Nonetheless, from my current experience I have gathered a few ideas. One being that you cannot play authentically if you do not understand every element of the circumstance: the atmosphere, the relationships, the meaning of your words or the words said to you, who you are, and what you are doing. Simply, an actor must be knowledgeable to make informed choices. That extends into research like knowing the time period, understanding the history, the social and gender norms, or the political climate. The character charts we grew up doing in educational theatre, were quite literally establishing the process to authenticity- we just barely knew it.

There is another component to authenticity that I find very important, and is something that I think resolves the conversation on whether someone should be allowed to be a certain role. Research can provide a plethora of information that can all be valuable, but there is an edge to personal experience that books cannot provide. Being able to tap into personal experience to further character development is such a gift, especially when the character has features that could easily be poorly represented in an offensive way. It is riveting to watch an artist discover that balance and reap the fruit of that process. I find it even more intriguing when I can watch one of my peers run through that experience first-hand.

Student Blog: The Whole Truth
Jacob Little fiddles with suitcases as Buddy
Layman in FSC's production of The Diviners.
This scene is one of the first tastes of Buddy's
interesting character. (PC: Lyndsey Ruiz)

Florida Southern College is completing its COVID safe, successful 2020-2021 season with The Diviners by Jim Leonard Jr., which features a young boy who is mentally and emotionally disabled. Though having an extreme affinity for finding water and possessing a loveable charisma, the young boy, Buddy Layman, has his own struggles. Jacob Little is a Freshman at FSC and has taken on the challenge of this character with authenticity as his top priority. Jacob is a wonderfully talented actor who has both a genuine personal understanding of the character and an established method for character development, which I believe makes his portrayal an exemplar of authenticity.

When questioned about his authenticity, Jacob mentioned he does feel that he is living as Buddy honestly, but quickly noted that it was not without diligent work. He focused on developing the character with honor and dignity, respecting the characters given circumstance, but still embodying himself to prevent and dehumanization or the creation of a caricature. He believes this approach "is essential to playing a character accurately," which only confirms my opinion on Jacob's process and portrayal. Jacob recognizes that playing Buddy, someone who struggles with mental illness, is a delicate situation and therefore tries to avoid overanalyzing him. He focuses on the fact that Buddy "is just another boy... someone who wants to be loved."

Jacob hits the target as far as understanding how to develop authenticity as an actor, but what proves that he is as wise of an artist as he seems is his application. Jacob's understanding of the character from a technical standpoint helped him create the character realistically. Using scholarly papers to better understand the mannerisms and characteristics of people who have autism reaffirmed his physical choices. Studying notes from speech pathologists and speech coordination charts helped him develop an accurate speech impediment. He also grounded his choices in time appropriate behavior by understanding the standards of the time. Jacob mentioned it is probable professionals in the 1930's would have had Buddy sterilized because of his disability, which helps Jacob understand the treatment he receives and influences his behavior around certain individuals. Though a bit of an arduous process, significant research improves the technical approach to the character, inherently increasing the quality of the entire performance. A thorough understanding of the facts of a character, the time-period, and the circumstance provides a foundation for impulses to brew in sincerity.

Student Blog: The Whole Truth
Many of Jacob's choices are dictated by the people
around him. C.C. Showers (Liam Fisher) is one of
the few people to witness Buddy's uniqueness.
(PC: Lyndsey Ruiz)

As a student of the department witnessing the casting of the show, I find the school to be fortunate to have Jacob to take on this role. Jacob mentioned needing to avoid creating a caricature instead of a human character because of the sensitivity of the subject. His particular circumstance makes him, in my humble opinion, the most appropriate for the role. To elaborate, Jacob has direct experience with physical, mental, and emotional disability because of his family. Two of his brothers have autism and another brother has a disability from suffering abuse within the foster care system. This little brother, Kaleb, is described as "the smartest person [Jacob] knows... beyond his years in technology, and writing and reading comprehension", but struggles to express himself to others. Jacob utilizes his relationship with his brother as a living, breathing, example. He replicates Kaleb's mannerisms and tics for Buddy's physicality because they are a part of Kaleb and can be shown in a way that is not disrespectful, but rather highlights normal, human behavior. By studying his brothers, Jacob has synthesized mannerisms and sounds that upon recreation create a character that is a realistic and most importantly, respectful. He is not creating behaviors he merely thinks look correct, which would be a straight shot to portraying Buddy in a disrespectful and offensive manner. Jacob is using truthful, personal examples to elevate his character from text on a page, to a realistic, living, honest, human being.

Student Blog: The Whole Truth
When particularly overwhelmed, Jacob reverts to the tic
featured in the photo. This physicality provides a visual
cue to Buddy's emotional life. (PC: Lyndsey Ruiz)

Jacob reminded me that there are many moments of symbolism beautifully woven into the play, and throughout the rehearsal process he has begun to navigate them. Faith and religion, freedom or entrapment, peace or chaos, are just some of the themes Jacob must negotiate throughout each run. Without revealing too much of the plot- for those who are interested in tuning in to our upcoming production- Buddy must come to terms with trauma, and does think in less orthodox ways. Jacob mentioned he is still toying with the idea of acceptance but that each run through put more facts into place. He feels that when all the technical elements are put it into action, the conclusion for his character will become even more precise. The exploration that Jacob is experiencing- his character's need to fly away, to get freedom, to experience water happily- is only enriched by the preparatory work he established. His research, studying, and absorption of example has allowed him the opportunity to explore freely. The impressive speed in which the show was blocked- only three days- also helped Jacob's development as he felt he could quickly pull away from the book and start living.

Buddy is a very endearing character, having such a humor about him that makes him loveable from the moment you meet him. Jacob refers to Buddy as "such a quality character", one of his favorites in modern literature, and as the character he has connected to most in his performance career. Because of its highly personal nature, Jacob mentioned feeling a duty to portray Buddy accurately for himself, his brothers, his family, and for all other people who suffer the prejudice and discrimination associated with disability. He also gave thanks to the creative team for respecting and accepting all his informed choices. Jacob hopes- and I strongly encourage your viewing to experience it for yourself- that the production will show that disability does not diminish someone's worth. He and his family have experienced injustice just as many other families, even the Layman's, have and hopes the production will open people up to respecting all individuals, no matter what they deal with. Ableism is undeniably a problem in our society, but he feels that productions like The Diviners will reveal how everyone is "amazing and unique in their own way."

Jacob's development as Buddy Layman has demonstrated the work that must be dedicated to authentically creating a character. The most important thing to take away from Jacob's journey can be adequately summarized into a bit of advice: "do research, but also be passionate." Those who function with genuine care, fully understanding every quirk of the character, are so much more entertaining, moving, authentic. Jacob encourages other studying actors to empathize with their character and let each one grow to be more than just one quality. Honesty as an actor grows from diligence and an immersion into the world of the character. If being authentic is one of the most attractive qualities about a person in day to day life, then creating authenticity in a character should be the main goal.

Student Blog: The Whole Truth
The Diviners will be streamed from Florida Southern College
starting April 17th. Tickets can be reserved through the site:

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From This Author Student Blogger: Madalyn Macko